We’ve written you a beginner’s guide to the NHL and told you a little about the conferences, the rules of hockey, and the reasons why you should attend a live game. But now, who do you support? Is the team closest to your hometown any good? Which teams are good enough to make it to the playoffs this year? And above all, whose games should you go check out live and in person? Here are our picks for the top five NHL teams to watch during the 2018-2019 season.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Yeah, the team that hails from balmy Florida is one of the best teams in the NHL. Go figure. Their general manager has made sure this team is full of youth and talent. The Lightning are just a bunch of dudes in their mid-twenties at the top of the game. With only four seasons in the NHL, right winger Nikita Kucherov of Russia is incredible and only getting better, hitting the 100-goal mark last season. Captain Steven Stamkos is another force to be reckoned with even if he hasn’t shown it often this year, but scoring 60 goals in one season a few years back put him up there with the likes of Wayne Gretzky. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is young but super promising as well. There’s a reason the Lightning didn’t pick up anybody else in the offseason. Because they’re already awesome (and there’s really no room under that salary cap, anyway).
Nashville is a party town, which means Predators games are fun even if the team isn’t good. But they are good. They got this close to winning the Stanley Cup in the 2016-2017 season, made the playoffs last season, and they’ve been on quite a hot streak ever since. Even if Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne isn’t healthy (spoiler: he is now), they’ve still got leaders like lovable defenseman PK Subban and guys to put points on the board like Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson. The often unsung Colton Sissons is solid too, scoring a hat trick this week against the Colorado Avalanche. PS – Rinne is playing again and he made 24 out of 25 saves in their 4-1 victory two days ago!
Okay, okay, we know they’re on a five-game losing streak right now. But this is the team with two very recent back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, lest you forget. And they’ve still got the same players on the squad. Goaltender Matt Murray is back after an injury, but the guy in his place, Casey DeSmith doesn’t suck. And despite their recent losing streak this season, with all these returning champ veterans, the Penguins are still a team to watch. Don’t worry, they’re not too old yet! Captain Sidney Crosby is fun to watch, Evgeni Malkin can score (even if he did give that Capitals player a shoulder to the face this week), and Jake Guentzel is also sneaky good, particularly in the offseason. We also don’t care that right winger Phil Kessel is in his 30s, he’s still the man.
Last year’s Stanley Cup winners, these guys had a magic moment when they finally got to hold that trophy high. Alexander Ovechkin is one of the best players in the NHL, period. And if we thought he was the pinnacle of awesome, centerman Evgeny Kuznetsov is about to top him as the team’s best player. (World on the street is those guys speak a lot of Russian together on the ice, so finding a right wing to complement them is tough.) Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen are older, but they’re still good – just don’t be surprised if they start to get overtaken by the young guns soon. Their only new guy, 25-year-old Sergei Shumakov, can score too. The Caps have been doing a sort of win-lose-win-lose thing over their past few games, but some folks think their latest win against the Penguins might get them into gear.
The Avs, as they’re known by fans, have lost their mojo a little recently with four straight losses and a lot of goals given up in the past few games. But we’ve got faith. Nathan MacKinnon is awesome… even if he hasn’t won a playoff series in like 10 years. He finished last season with more than 80 goals. So did his go-to guy, right winger Mikko Rantanen, who’s only 21 years old. And adding Matt Calvert doesn’t hurt matters. The whole team is explosive and dynamic, but they’re especially dangerous offensively. At least, we know they can be… And hey, if we’re wrong, at least Denver is a super cool place to hang out and watch a game.